Report on the Health of the Humanities in Higher Education

Academy Data Forum: A Check-up on the Health of the Humanities in Higher Education

The health of the humanities in higher education has been a topic of considerable discussion since the Academy issued The Heart of the Matter in 2013. To provide some context for the discussion, the Academy is releasing a new report today, The State of the Humanities: Higher Education 2015 and new and revised items in the Humanities Indicators on recent trends in the conferral of humanities degrees. As the report and updates show, the trend in degree conferrals seems to validate the concerns that prompted the Commission report:

  • The share of undergraduate degrees earned by humanities students at private not-for-profit colleges and universities—a traditional area of strength for the field—has been shrinking for two decades, and in 2013 reached the lowest point since at least 1987.
  • The share of women earning degrees in the field has also been shrinking since 2003 (falling from 62% to 59% in 2013).
  • The proportion of traditionally underrepresented minorities earning humanities bachelor’s degrees increased three percentage points from 2009 to 2013, but remains lower than the share for all fields. The field also awards less than half the percentage of degrees to students from foreign countries with temporary visas than all fields combined.
  • While the share of students earning humanities bachelor’s degrees has been shrinking since the recession, the share of students earning master’s degrees has generally been shrinking since 1993, and reached a new low in 2013.

While advocates for the humanities in colleges and universities will find the trends among four-year degrees troubling, the news about the humanities is not all negative for those concerned about the field. The percentage of students earning associates degrees that require a significant amount of humanities course-taking is rising, the production of new academic books on humanities subjects seems fairly steady as of 2012, and funding for academic research in the humanities has been increasing.

To provide some perspective on what the numbers tell us—and what they don’t—we invited two experts in the humanities and higher education administration to share their perspectives. Danielle Allen is currently UPS Foundation Professor in Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study and incoming director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. Michael S. Roth is president of Wesleyan University. His most recent book is Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters.

For the full report, as well as the commentaries by Danielle Allen and Michael S. Roth, please click here.